Saturday, March 24, 2012


“Children know perfectly well that unicorns aren’t real, but they also know that books about unicorns, if they are good books, are true books.”
― Ursula K. Le Guin

There are lots of things being said on the Interwebs about THE HUNGER GAMES.   I have spent some time reading all of these differing opinions on the film and it is making me think about the function of fiction.  Why do we tell stories?  We humans have been spinning yarns for as long as we have been humans.  Our entire history as a species is based on our ability to learn through shared stories.  It is no coincidence that our oldest writings are fables.  Greek mythology, the Ramayana, Gilgamesh of Sumeria, the Torah, and Beowulf are all still around with us today because they teach us truth about ourselves and others and they do it in the best way possible -- with a story. 

The complaints I am hearing about THE HUNGER GAMES are mainly about how the movie should have "taught" something.  Some think it should have explained how ecological disasters brought on societal collapse.  Some think it should have pointed out how bad it is to kill teenagers by showing every death in slow-motion detail.  Some identify it as a branch of the Occupy movement.  Some believe it to be a strong message for traditional Conservatism.  Some think it should have been more pointedly satirical, blatantly pointing out the parallels in the film to current-day events.  

I think THE HUNGER GAMES did exactly what it was supposed to do, and that is to tell a story about people. Katness is someone who sticks in your brain.  She is someone you think about and take with you.  All the wonderful characters around her are also people you care about, people who you see yourself reflected in.  I don't think one changes the world by telling people how to change. I don't think that's the function of art.   But, you can express yourself by doing exactly what people have been doing around campfires since the beginning of time - you can tell a story.  Anything and everything after that is someone else's story to tell.

Sunday, March 11, 2012


Jean Dujardin has become the first male actor to win an Oscar, a Golden Globe, a BAFTA Award, and Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival.  He won a bunch of other stuff too (does anyone care that the Dallas-Ft.Worth Film Reviewers Guild gave him an award?) and every single nomination and accolade was richly deserved.  Not only did he flawlessly portray a character, he did it in the style of a silent film star, which I think must be like cooking a meal in full SCUBA gear or preparing a report for your boss using only toothpicks and bits of used chewing gum - achievable but much much harder.  M. Dujardin did it and made it look easy.

The rest of the cast, the filming, the music, the costuming, the sets - everything was also perfectly wonderful.  Berenice Bejo looked really pretty.   She was one of the few who didn't quite manage to fit seamlessly into the silent movie acting style but she was playing against Jean Dujardin and that's a lot of perfection to stand next to. Also she also had to be in compliance with The First Rule Of Period Costuming (or Movies) which is "Make the leading lady hot. Ignore every bit of the 200 hours of historical costuming research you just did and MAKE  HER HOT!!"

The look of the character Peppy Miller might have been modeled after the very famous Clara Bow.  Her clothing, however, is oddly light and I'm pretty sure you could pick most of it up at H&M in a few weeks.

Identical to Clara Bow except for the lack of extremely frizzy hair and 30 pounds.
While Ms Bow is pretty, she isn't the kind of pretty audiences today want to look at.  

She also appears to have a infant arm growing out of her chest.
But, I digress.  The film is excellent and I recommend it to everyone.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

BYU Honors List: TOP HAT

TOP HAT is the fourth of ten movies that Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers made together.  It was nominated for several Academy Awards and is considered to be one of their best musicals.  I remember watching this movie when I was a kid and still catch myself singing the Irving Berlin songs from it.  "Cheek to Cheek" in particular was my favorite and it was probably because of the dress.  That glorious white feathery dress is absolutely the stuff  little girl dreams are made of.

See? Dreamy...

It was really interesting to watch this film again as an adult.  I knew that they could sing and dance and tap but I didn't know that Ginger Rodgers could ACT.  Fred does a lot of mugging and face-pulling which is as choreographed and meticulous as his dancing.  (Actually, I found out that most of the Astaire-Rodgers films were planned by Fred via flowchart, with the timing for musical numbers and jokes planned and graphed for the screenwriters and composers to follow.)  Ginger, however, is an actor and keeps on acting through the dance numbers.
It's like Jane Eyre in a 3 minute dance.

So, my favorite song and my favorite number, "Cheek to Cheek", when viewed as an adult, takes on a whole new meaning thanks to Ms Rodger's performance.  Her character believes Fred is married and so there is this underlying melancholy and heartbreak through the whole dance because she's in love with him but knows they will never be together.  Of course we all know everything is going to work out fine because Fred isn't married and this is Fred-and-Ginger-Land and it wouldn't be a fantastic escapist Depression-era musical if it had a sad ending.  But, Ginger doesn't know this and she SHOWS it.  It's so good.


She's the kind of girl who laughs at you and not with you.
I would like to say that this movie is one of the reasons the name "Susan" is always used to portray psychopaths but I recently learned that Jane Austin wrote a book called Lady Susan, with the title character being an utterly hateful human being.  So, really, BRINGING UP BABY is just following tradition when Katherine Hepburn's character is named Susan.  What else would you name a manipulative compulsive liar who systematically ruins a man's life out of "love"?

Right. "Susan" is obviously the only option.

Why is this movie on the BYU Honors List?

BRINGING UP BABY is one of the original "screwball comedies" and its tight writing and fast pace are excellent examples of the genre.  This is also the second film Hepburn and Grant were in, though the first successful one.  They had both been in SYLVIA SCARLETT but that movie is so terrible that Hepburn offered to re-shoot the entire thing.  The head of the studio was so disgusted with everyone he decided he couldn't face four more weeks of shooting and just released a terrible movie.  Fortunately BRINGING UP BABY was made at a different studio and is much better.
"Perhaps I love her cause she lets me cross-dress"

Also, what I found interesting in this film is how Grant's character is supposed to love the indignity and destruction that this Susan causes in his life.  She ruins his wedding, his clothing, his reputation, his career, and four years of work and it's allegedly charming.  Perhaps this film is a classic because it reflects an extreme version of how relationships can be life changing - an utter upheaval of established perceptions and habits.  Or maybe they just loved wacky women in the 30's.

What I Liked
"Do I come in after the dog yip &  leopard howl, or is it just one dog yip?"

The best moment, for me, was toward the end when Grant and Hepburn are standing in a stranger's back yard with a dog and try to sing a leopard off of the roof.  It made me happy to hear Grant singing a neat little tenor part to Hepburn's melody but when the dog starts to sing and the leopard begins to howl...  I actually laughed out loud.

Friday, March 09, 2012

BYU Honors List: 42nd STREET

A few weeks ago I attended an LDS Multi-Regional Singles Conference.  While there I took several classes but one class, taught by a Todd L. Goodsell, bothered me.  In the class he offhandedly mentioned several books he had read which were from the BYU Honors List.  I had never heard of these books.  Since I do not consider myself to be an uneducated person this ignorance of classic books was completely unacceptable.  My sister Caroline, who attended the same conference and the same class walked up to me afterwards and said “I really need to get a copy of the BYU Honors List.  That dude was naming books I have never heard of.”
That night I found the BYU Honors List and to my delight it not only has books but music, plays, and MOVIES!   So, now you know what you are in for.  This entry begins a series of reviews (hopefully) for films from the BYU Honors List 

Everyone hates everyone, so it's totally realistic.

This movie is one of those “let’s put on a show!” musicals with Berkley doing the Zigfield-esque choreography.  It was nominated for an Academy Award.  It is set (and filmed) during the Depression so there is a little more emotion invested in the show’s success or failure.  There is the traditional clueless financial backer who insists on his favorite girl being cast in the lead, the driven and uncompromising director, and a lot of dance numbers.

Why is it on the BYU Honors List?

"Even when I'm playing drunk I'm a better actress than you"

After watching this, Caroline pointed out that there are a lot of Zigfield chorus girl movies which are a lot better.  And she is right.  However, most of those don’t show the hours and hours of backstage shenanigans and snark that happens during the rehearsal process.  It cheered me immensely to see that theater people are really the same today as they were then.  We always think of folks from earlier times being more pure or refined or unspoiled compared to current standards.  Theater people, in this film, are EXACTLY the same.  The movie is based on a book which actually has the junior lead male having a relationship with the director.  However, in 1933 they decided against showing a gay relationship on screen so the WORSTACTRESS EVER became the young guy’s love interest.  Seriously, she was so bad she almost ruined the entire movie.

What I liked best:

Ginger Rodgers.  She’s in it playing the bit part of “Anytime Annie” and she is MEAN!   I really liked her.

"Anytime Annie only said 'No' once and then she didn't hear the question..."